Gender Roles in Television: A Correspondence to Context by Benjamin Mates

Writer’s Reflection

I thought that this assignment was a manageable challenge. The prompt wasn’t too broad or too specific, so I was able to easily answer the prompt while, at the same time, exploring more specific ideas related to gender and texts. I enjoyed close reading one of my favorite television shows, Modern Family.

The piece I am submitting is well written, very focused, and mostly likely interesting to most academic readers. I am very proud of the work I have done. My prompt is very focused and successfully introduces my argument. My entire paper is well structured and makes great use of deductive reasoning to creating a more enhanced argument that persuades the reader. I am proud that I remembered that a paper such as this one requires one or two background/context paragraphs in order for the reader to gain a fuller understanding of the text(s) being analyzed. My explanations and evidence that support every claim create a great ethos in the paper. Therefore, the reader will most likely trust my writing and believe my claims. My claims are supported by reliable sources that further strengthen my ethos.

I didn’t run into too many obstacles while writing this paper. I mainly had trouble finding reliable sources, such as journal articles and books. I haven’t ever had to spend a lot of time searching the library for sources, but this inquiry had a somewhat specific prompt that required focused and contextually relevant sources. I also had some trouble with writer’s block, but that wasn’t a major problem.

When I first started this assignment, I went to several different websites to gain some background knowledge of the two primary texts that I was analyzing, Modern Family and Leave It to Beaver. I needed to make sure that I fully understood the different characters and the plot of each television show. After collecting the background information on the two shows, I began searching for secondary sources that provided historical information that related to gender norms and gender roles of the 1950s. I decided to focus on the roles of the fathers and mothers in both television shows. I then close read both television shows and took notes on the different roles the characters took on. I found a lot of information in the two shows that revealed a lot of differences between the time period in which Leave It to Beaver was aired and the current time period. The last thing that I did before writing my inquiry II draft was to make a thorough outline that included quotes and explanations that I planned on using in specific parts of the paper. It also included the introductory paragraph and thesis for my paper. I found the outline quite helpful because it saved me a lot of time when it came to deciding which quotes I wanted to use and where exactly I wanted to put them. I didn’t follow my outline completely while writing my paper, but it still provided a good framework to build upon.

My paper includes about an equal amount of research and information that was acquired through the close reading of Modern Family and Leave It to Beaver. About a fifth of the paper is background information on the two television shows. The structure of my essay is built on the idea that the fundamentals should be presented first. My introductory paragraph introduces the reader to gender roles and historical change. My thesis introduces my claim and the two texts that I am close reading. I didn’t want to plunge the reader directly into my analysis, so I included two background/context paragraphs, one for Modern Family and one for Leave It to Beaver. After these two paragraphs are my body paragraphs that use the context information found in preceding paragraphs to show the differences in gender norms and gender roles to the reader. All of that historical information is pertinent to my claim that focuses on the reflection of gender norms and roles in texts that correspond to certain time periods. All of the information that I provided in my paper has relevance to my thesis and each claim made in the body paragraphs.

The choices I made in the production of this paper certainly help communicate my ideas to the reader. The structure of the paper prevents the reader from getting confused about which show and which time period I am discussing. I avoided being vague in my writing by including specific episode titles and dates. The fact that my ethos will be strengthened by specificity will help in the communication of my ideas. The reader does not want to be confused by vague ideas and other uncertainties. Also, I believe that my background/context paragraphs are vital in communicating my ideas to the reader.

My intended audience for this paper is people who have academic interests in culture and gender roles. Television network employees and equality groups might also find interest in this paper. Someone without any prior knowledge of gender roles would not be able to experience the full effect of this paper. I think that I have uncovered the reasons behind changes in gender roles and gender norms and their presentation in corresponding texts. I believe that my paper might convince a television network employee to closely examine the shows that her network is airing.

While working on the inquiry, I learned a lot of things about texts and gender roles. I suppose that I already knew that texts were reflective of a certain historical context, but I never thought about it that much. Since I uncovered the idea that there are restrictive gender norms, I think there might be more social issues to investigate in different texts. If we can find these gender issues in texts, perhaps we can try to improve our current culture by somehow removing ideas of inferiority and restrictions on certain groups.

Overall, I think my paper is rather amazing. I would like to congratulate myself on my knowledge of structure and its effect on the reader. I would also like to congratulate myself on how persuasive and thought-provoking my paper is. After reading my final draft, I realized that my paper not only influences the reader to see this idea of gender roles, context, change, and texts, but also builds an interest in the reader and makes him think deeper about what is happening with culture. I believe the reader will continue to think about my claims even after he has finished reading my paper and has sat down in his living room to watch his favorite television show.


The United States has gone through many different changes throughout its history. One of these changes can be seen in the social culture. Gender roles and expected attributes are different today than those of decades before. A huge difference can be observed between the gender norms of the 50s and the gender norms of today. These important changes can be seen though the differences in gender expectations and rules between the shows from the 50s and the shows of today. Leave It to Beaver, which was aired through the 1950s, and Modern Family, which is currently being aired, are both filled with gender messages and reflections of the corresponding time periods. By analyzing these differences found in Leave It to Beaver and Modern Family, one can see that they reflect the cultural beliefs of the time periods in which they were aired.

Leave It to Beaver, a comedy show about a family consisting of a wife, a husband, and children, was aired in the decade after World War II (“Leave it to Beaver”). This was the time when American soldiers were returning home to their wives. A baby boom resulted and people began to focus much of their attention on family matters. According to the History Channel, “Many people in the postwar era looked forward to having children because they were confident that the future would be one of comfort and prosperity”(“Baby Boomers.”). Since the men had returned from the war, women were no longer needed in the workforce and were urged to return to the domestic setting (Breines). According to sociologist, Wini Breines, “The period [1950s] was characterized by a mass media, popular culture, and norms which encouraged an exaggerated traditional femaleness, sexual and domestic” (Breines). “The 1950s are far more often characterized as the time of omnipresent, and incredibly stringent, gender norms”, explains another sociologist, Jessamyn Neuhaus. Women had become the homemakers and the men had become the breadwinners. It is important to take the fact that Leave It to Beaver must have been influenced by the 1950s into consideration.

The family comedy, Modern Family, which first aired in 2009 and is still currently being aired, focuses on three different families: A gay male couple with a child, a ‘typical’ husband and wife with several children, and a husband and wife that have a significant age difference between them (ABC). Modern Family is influenced by the current American culture, which is certainly not as strict and conservative as the culture that was present during the 1950s. This is clearly demonstrated in the fact that there is a gay couple with a child on the show. Modern Family presents the less conservative American culture that was present in 2009 and is still present today.

The two shows, Modern Family and Leave It to Beaver, show that men in America during the 1950s had a much more dominating role than men in the 21st century. In the episode of Leave It to Beaver titled “Beaver’s Typewriter” and many other episodes, Beaver’s father makes all the major financial decisions, such as purchasing a typewriter for Beaver. Beaver’s father is presented as the breadwinner of the household because he works and his wife stays at home and does housework. Beaver’s father is clearly performing the male gender norm of the time because men had their “noses to the grindstone of breadwinning” in the 1950s (Ryan). In the Modern Family episode “Two Monkeys and a Panda”, Claire’s husband must consult her on how to spend a simple gift card. This demonstrates the fact that men are now much less dominating that they were in the 1950s. Beaver’s father is shown doing yard work in the introduction scene of Leave It to Beaver. June, Beaver’s mother, is shown carrying a fragile serving tray of drinks for the kids in the introduction scene. This shows a more rugged and powerful, and therefore more dominating male gender role for Beaver’s father. June is depicted as doing her job as a woman, which was to bear and rear children”(“Baby Boomers”). Claire, in the Modern Family episode titled “ Slow Down Your Neighbors”, does as she pleases when she publically voices her outrage at a speeder. Her husband is not very dominating at all because has no choice but to let his wife make her own decisions. It is clear that the differences between male gender roles in Modern Family and Leave It to Beaver show that the gender norm for males in the 1950s was more dominant than that of today.

Leave It to Beaver shows the woman’s place as the kitchen and other domestic areas, whilst Modern Family does not restrict a woman to a certain area. According to the book Mysteries of Sex, Tracing Women and Men Through American History, “Low status and low pay discouraged women workers, and the blitz rhetoric about the joys of cooking, breast-feeding, and home care beckoned them [women in the 1950s] homeward”(Ryan). This idea of joyful cooking and the confinement to the kitchen atmosphere can clearly be seen in almost any episode of Leave It to Beaver. June is always cooking something or cleaning something in the kitchen. In the episode of Leave It to Beaver titled “Community Chest”, Beaver’s mother says that it might “help if [she] could go put on an old apron” because it might help her blend in better at the school open house. Not only does the apron refer to the kitchen, but it also indicates that other women spend most of their time in the kitchen. In the same episode, Beaver’s Brother tells June that a “guy wants his mother to look good, but he doesn’t want her looking so good that people notice her.” This implies that it is better that she avoid leaving her humble kitchen than to go out and be seen. In the episode of Modern Family titled “Slow Down Your Neighbors”, Claire protests the speeding that has been taking place through the family neighborhood. This shows that Claire, a housewife, is not confined to the kitchen environment, but is able to do as she pleases, unlike June in Leave It to Beaver. Modern Family, a show that is reflective of modern gender norms, without a doubt, avoids confining women to the kitchen and domestic life.

The show Modern Family implies that both the mother and father have equal power in the parenting of their children, but in Leave It to Beaver, it is indicated that women are supposed to let their husbands take care of most of the parenting. This supports the fact that “maternal ‘overinvolvement’, or the domineering mother, was a power theme in much literature, some popular, of the 1940s and 1950s” (Breines). In many of the episodes of Leave It to Beaver, Beaver’s father is the one who talks to his sons about their problems and tells them what to do. In the episode of Leave It to Beaver titled “Ward’s Golf Clubs”, Beaver’s father talks to Beaver about doing what is right, telling him that he shouldn’t let his friends convince him to do things that he knows are wrong. Beaver’s mother seems to only ask questions. In Modern Family, Claire takes control over a lot of the parenting of her children. In the Modern Family episode titled “Princess Party”, Claire practices tough parenting when reminds her daughter that “[she] could go [to a party] if [she] got a B on her history exam, which [she] did not.” Beaver’s mother would not have practice such harsh parenting on Beaver because that is her husband’s job. In a Modern Family episode titled “Our Children, Ourselves”, Claire tells her son Luke “to go to [his] room”. The father would be the one representing the strong parenthood in the family in Leave It to Beaver. Undoubtedly, Modern Family and Leave It to Beaver show differences in parenthood roles, revealing the social context of each of the corresponding time periods.

It is clear that the differences in gender norms and gender roles in the television shows Modern Family and Leave It to Beaver reflect the cultural beliefs on gender that were/are present in the corresponding periods of American history. It is important to understand that these two shows were created in two different historical and social contexts. Modern Family would not have been an appropriate show to air in the 1950s because of the gender roles that it presents. Leave It to Beaver would not be appropriate, and would spark much outrage if it were aired in 21st century America because it would also contain contextually inappropriate gender roles. The gender roles in Modern Family, other television shows, books, and the media may very likely be seen as inappropriate in the future. Gender roles and gender norms are always changing because of different cultural, economical, and environmental factors. Through the understanding of gender roles and the changes they undergo, people might someday eradicate the ideas of inferiority and restrictive gender roles.


Works Cited

“Modern Family.” – Official Site of the ABC Network. Web. 16 Mar. 2011.

Breines, Wini. “The1950s: Gender and Some Social Science.” Sociological Inquiry 56.1 (1986): 69-92. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.

Connelly, Joe, Dick Conway, and Bob Mosher. Leave It to Beaver. CBS, ABC. 1957. Television.

“Baby Boomers.” Web. 16 Feb. 2011. <>.

“Leave It to Beaver (TV Series 1957–1963) – IMDb.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 17 Mar. 2011.

Levitan, Steven, and Christopher Lloyd. Modern Family. ABC. 2009. Television.

Neuhaus, Jessamyn. “The Way to a Man’s Heart: Gender Roles, Domestic Ideology, and Cookbooks in the 1950s.” Journal of Social History 32.3 (1999): 529. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 23 Feb. 2011.

Ryan, Mary P. Mysteries of Sex: Tracing Women and Men Through American History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2006. Print.